Shortly after the New York Jets toppled the New England Patriots Sunday to advance to the AFC Championship Game, Raymond Larsen, in an act of celebration, hopped on a snow saucer and took off down his driveway in Staten Island.
The 46-year-old father of two veered into the street and was struck by an oncoming vehicle. Neighbors told The Staten Island Advance they heard what sounded like a car hitting a pothole before discovering Larsen lifeless and bleeding from the head. He was later pronounced dead at Staten Island University Hospital.
At 2:10 p.m the next day Deadspin, the web's top sports blog and a leader in national sports media, published a post on Larsen's death titled "Victory Sled Ends Tragically For One Happy Jets Fan." For a site whose taste is questioned regularly, the entry lacked the snark and ridicule the site makes its bones with. When one scrolls down to the comment section, however, humanity quickly fades. Below are comments from the site. I've linked to the (largely-anonymous) users' profiles where applicable.
- scoop.and.slam: "Who would have thought someone in a Mark Sanchez jersey could overshoot a driveway so wide open!"
- Sonar Jose: "The original plan was for him to just take the sled for a quick ride out in the flat side of his lawn, but as soon as he put that jersey on he was overcome by the urge to force it downhill into traffic."
- ToddReesingsTurfFacial: "What are you talking about? I have a transcript from the hospital.
- Attending Physician: Ed, call it.
- Ambulance Driver Ed: D! E! A! D! DEAD! DEAD! DEAD!"
- Brothamouzone: "Goodbye, unbloodstained road." (This comment was "promoted" by a user named UweBollocks)
- ReverseApeChemist: "Too bad he wasn't riding an official NFL.com Darrent William sled. He would have been able to drive-by." (Darrent Williams was an NFL player shot and killed on New Year's Eve in 2007. Koburn "promoted" the comment.)
While Deadspin readers took potshots hoping their attempt at edgy sports humor got noticed, readers at The Staten Island Advance engaged in a volatile debate on Larsen's sobriety and intelligence. While his street was blocked off so the snow soaked with his father's blood could be removed, Larsen's son Ty logged on to defend his father.
guys...this man was my father. drunk, sober, old, or young...he was having a good time, something that he loved to do. as his son, im asking you to stop with your immature, nasty comments...if your father died, im sure it wouldnt have mattered how...it still feels the same
On Tuesday, The New York Times published the article, "Jets Fan Should Be Remembered For Good Life, Not Unusual Death, Friends Say."
It talks about Larsen's smile, the quality best remembered by his friends and family. He's remembered for the great lengths he took to celebrate Halloween and for helping plow neighborhood driveways after last month's blizzard.
The qualities Larsen is best remembered for -- in an obituary carrying an unfortunate footnote -- are qualities many of us shed when we rest behind the cloak of a keyboard.
The web allows us to take out our frustration on people we may never see or hear from. It allows us to get on Twitter and call out companies whose products we're having trouble with.
It allows us to behave in a manner we may otherwise not have. I'm guilty and, odds are, so are you.
Now, this varies from simply being a little more sarcastic to becoming a darker person online.
In 2009 I interned for The Big Lead, another wide-read sports blog. I've seen comment threads dissolve into ignorance. I've read commenters attempt wit in bad taste in hopes of getting discovered and blowing up like the sites they read once did. I must mention, however, that this is not a macro statement on all readers of these (and other) sites.
The Deadspin post that ran Monday afternoon didn't attempt to make light of Larsen's death. Its headline was carefully worded and it actually only posted a blurb from The Staten Island Advance story. But for some sitting slumped at home or in a cubicle, it became mid-afternoon fodder as they fought post-lunch fatigue hundreds of miles away from a family grieving.
I usually don't make New Years resolutions, but I'll be making an extra effort this year to ensure my behavior online mirrors who I am.
I also hope to see more websites move away from anonymous commenting, save for rare exceptions. I hope we can have discussions online with comments and opinions we feel strong enough about to sign our names to.
I hope we can all act a little more human online.